AUSTRIA, Lxenburg. The agricultural sector is the world’s largest source of non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions, and IIASA-led research has found that changing agricultural practices and a shift in diet away from meat and dairy products could reduce the sector’s emissions by up to 50% by 2050 compared to a situation without mitigation efforts.
The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) researcher Stefan Frank led the team which carried out the first detailed analysis of agricultural non-CO2 mitigation using a combination of four different global economic models and assessed the reduction potential. They used the carbon price in the models to estimate the mitigation potential of each option, although Frank stresses that carbon taxes are not considered a likely policy instrument for the agricultural sector in reality.
Efforts in the agricultural sector alone could reduce up to 15% of agricultural methane and nitrous oxide emissions by 2050. Dietary changes in overconsuming countries could contribute additional reductions of 23%.
The beef and dairy industries are highly greenhouse gas intensive, and across all models and carbon price scenarios, had the potential to contribute more than two thirds of the total mitigation potential in agriculture.
The models show that as carbon prices rise, technical and structural options become exhausted, after which emissions reductions can be achieved through reducing production and consumption of greenhouse gas intensive products, such as meat and dairy. Such dietary changes would have an added benefit. As demand drops in overconsuming countries, less nitrous oxides and methane is emitted while at the same time it would also yield a more balanced distribution of the calorie intake from meat and dairy across more world regions with benefits for food security.
As countries will have to periodically monitor progress and take stock of the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the insights provided in the study could help policymakers to identify regional mitigation priorities in the sector and have a better understanding of the potential contribution of agriculture.